New Belgium Brewery Tour Review: A Beer-Loving Ecovangelist's Mecca
While visiting family in Ft. Collins, CO, on our winter attempt at a fossil fuel free road trip, we had the pleasure of touring the New Belgium Brewing Company, makers of Fat Tire Ale, Mothership Wit Organic Ale, 2° Below, and other tasty concoctions. Located a stone’s throw from old town, this sustainable brew house is now the 3rd largest craft brewery in the country, only behind giants like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada.
I was already a fan, knowing that the brewery was completely wind-powered, that their fat tire beer is pretty darn good, and that we would get free samples. I really didn’t see how I would be disappointed, but I didn’t know what wonders that I was to behold on the tour.
Walking up to the New Belgium Brewing Company, the flagship brew Fat Tire comes alive through long rows of bike racks, filled with the chubby-wheeled bikes of employees, who are encouraged to bike to work and given one of the logo-clad gas-savers after one year of employment. Once you enter the bar/tasting area, further clues of their mission abound – stained concrete floors, stools and chairs made from recycled bike wheels, the shrine to bicycling, to the eco-tips article clipped to the bathroom stall wall. The mood in the tasting room is fun and jovial, the employee-owners (yes, 1/3 of the company is owned by the employees!) wearing holiday garb, their verve for working at New Belgium apparent in their expressions.
We were able to jump on to the last tour of the day and since we didn’t have time to choose our 4 samples, our server gave us a primer sample of 2° Below, the deep caramel –colored, mildly spiced and satisfying winter brew. With our whistle wetted, we headed off with Erin, our energetic and impassioned employee-owner tour guide. As we walked to brew house 2, the new facility, capable of 700 bottles per minute, Erin pointed out the porous concrete walkway for drainage, the LED/recycled bottle chandelier, and the massive skylight, solar tube, and reflector system to maximize daylight. We watched the armies of bottles being cleaned, filled, and packaged for shipping on the slick new assembly line. New Belgium uses B20 for all local shipping, and is looking into ways to make long-distance distribution (which they must subcontract out at this point) more eco-friendly such as the use of trains rather than trucks when possible. In fact, the thing that impressed me most about this company is that they have built a successful business model as sustainable as they could from the beginning, and are constantly trying to move forward, improve, and innovate, to hopefully make everything in their process, from cradle to grave, have as small of an environmental footprint as possible.
Erin spoke about the brewery with a near religious fervor, referring in awe to the founders, Jeff and Kim, and of the sense of family that had been engendered there. As we continued the tour, we climbed some stairs to the top of the vats where wort was stewing in one and barley was being cracked in another. I was surprised to find that what would have been a bare and warehouse atmosphere anywhere else, was adorned with sculptures made from recycled parts, and each of the 3 tanks was surrounded by a different mosaic, the first of which had embedded, “To make our love and talent manifest.” idealistic prose, straight from the mission statement of this visionary company.
Once we finished the tour, we headed back to the crowded and cheerful tasting room and ordered our 4 samples each. All of the beers are based on Belgian style beermaking, but New Belgium has creatively expanded upon the former standards. The flagship, Fat Tire is a good, basic, medium ale with a tasty and solid flavor, a minimally bitter aftertaste, and is just as comfortable quenching your beer-thirst after a grueling bike ride as it is at your favorite social gathering – plus, you definitely get extra points these days bringing an environmentally friendly brew to a party. Mothership Wit is a 95% organic wheat ale that is light and refreshing, but to me has a much fuller flavor than most Belgian wheats. It has a hint of citrus and it’s slight turbidity makes you feel like you’re drinking a natural, organic beer. 1554, a reproduction of the oldest known recipe of dark Belgian ale, dug up from the depths of the ancient Brussels’ city archives, is a dark, chocolaty concoction that gives you a wonderful array of flavors up front, a satisfying aftertaste, and a stoutish feel without being to heavy. The Frambosen is probably one of the best fruit-tainted beers I’ve had, ranking up with Magic Hat #9. The beer is somewhat dark, with a full body and just enough raspberry to make it out of this world. Although I could only sample 4 of my own, I sneaked some sips of a few others as well as cleaning up some floaters from other family members. The Trippel ale that Laura ordered was unexpectedly interesting but good, with a yeasty and slightly sour flavor, making me feel like I had just scored some of the best 16th century mead the knighthood could buy.
After the tasting, we signed up for the Wunderbike team, pledging to ride to work at least twice a month (which we do anyway) and getting some sweet pant-straps in the process. We also picked up New Belgium bike socks, a growler of Frombosen for the holidays, and Laura bought me a cycling jersey because the whole experience had been so exciting to me. We had just had the pleasure of touring this wonderful company that makes great beer in a sustainable way, in a creative, caring atmosphere. If I wasn’t already an ER doc in CA, I would be tempted to submit my application! Did I mention that the owner/employees get a case of beer/week during the holidays? To Jeff and Kim and the rest of the New Belgium family, keep up the fantastic work, we’ll be enjoying plenty of Fat Tire in the future.